Tag Archives: personal narrative

“Suicide by Botany – A Rant and a Prayer”

I found the wild blue irises growing in a certain roadside ditch. 

I’m not a “real” botanist.

I knew I took a chance, near homes full of guns. Hostile signs threaten me. 

I don’t trespass, but I fear I might provoke gunfire.

I imagine a confrontation in which I say, “That’s okay, I’m a bit suicidal, so go ahead and shoot me.” 

Feeling sarcastic, I imagine saying, “But you’ll have to clean up the mess, and take care of the paperwork. You probably can’t just leave my body on the roadside…”

I only encounter a polite homeowner who asks if I am “okay”. That’s code language for “Why are you looking at my ditch?”, but I’m good with that.

I’m grateful for my calm neighbor. He was willing to assume I was harmless.

May his day and mine be filled with flowers. 

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List of posts pertaining to race in America

Hello, dear Readers!

Are you looking for books about race and/or white supremacy? This is what I’ve read (willy nilly) over the past 8 years. Most of these were just lucky finds, often from the New Arrivals shelf at my library. Some of these (towards the bottom) are books I haven’t read yet!

I’m using the term “race” broadly, to include “people of color” and indigenous Americans.

I’ve also written about lectures and personal experiences.

Sorry about the rough formatting. Dates (column two) are given in YYYYMMDD format, which can be used with the blog archive to find my reviews/essays. Or use the blog search function with the author’s name (third and fourth columns). If there’s nothing in the third and fourth column, I am the author.

“Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher…Edward Curtis” 20130519 Timothy Egan biography
“The Eve of Destruction – How 1965 Transformed America” 20130603 James T Patterson sociology
“Pryor Convictions and Other Life Sentences” 20130804 Richard Pryor autobiography
“Detroit – An American Autopsy” 20130907 Charlie LeDuff urban planning
“The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger” 20130915 Richard Wilkenson sociology
“Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance” 20131004 Carla Kaplan lecture review
“Playing the enemy – Nelson Mandela and the game that made a nation” 20131016 John Carlin political science
“My Beloved World” 20131118 Sonia Sotomayor autobiography
Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013) – Rest in Peace 20131206 essay Gitchell
“Tangled Webs – How false statements are undermining America: from Martha Steward to Bernie Madoff” 20140108 James B Stewart sociology
“American Mirror – The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell” 20140205 Deborah Solomon biography
“Hellhound On His Trail: the electrifying account of the largest manhunt in American history” 20141030 Hampton Sides history – recent
My Days in Court – Reflections on Jury Duty 20150217 essay Gitchell
“Son of the Rough South – an Uncivil Memoir” 20160109 Karl Flemming autobiography
“The Color of Water” 20160410 James McBride autobiography
“Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” 20160924 Bryan Stevenson sociology
Constitution Day Lecture – SU – 2016 20161105 Akhim Reen lecture review
“Growing Up in the Other Atlantic City” and “Why We Chose This Way” 20161217 Turiya S.A. Raheem autobiography & creative non fiction
Women’s Protest March (Trenton, NJ) and protest memories 20170122 essay Gitchell
Women’s March in Trenton (2) – about Elder Sister 20170125 essay Gitchell
Ms. Edith Savage-Jennings – Elder Sister 20170128 essay Gitchell
The Central State University Chorus in performance 20170328 concert review
Intersectionality – a personal essay 20170525 essay Gitchell
In honor of MLK Day (1) – Remembering Lillie Belle Allen and York, PA 20180116 essay Gitchell
In Honor of MLK Day (2) – Remembering Lillie Belle Allen and York, PA 20180220 essay Gitchell
Having Our Say: Women of Color in the 2018 Election 20181019 Sheila Oliver lecture review
“Becoming” 20181214 Michelle Obama autobiography
Drawing Fire –  A Pawnee…WW II 20190719 Brummett Echohawk autobiography
When I Was White – A Memoir 20190827 Sarah Valentine autobiography
Constitution Day Lecture – SU 2019 – J Biskupic 20190920 Joan Biskupic lecture review
Say Her Name – Lillie Belle Allen 20200610 essay Gitchell
Senator Cory Booker virtual town hall 20200621 essay Gitchell
“Race in America” in my blog 20200628 essay Gitchell
“Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy” 20201018 David Zucchino history
“Whistling Vivaldi – How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do” by Claude M. Steele 20201017 Claude Steele sociology
“Rain of Gold” by Victor E. Villasenor 20200829 Victort Villasenor history

“Here for It – or, how to save your soul in America” by R. Eric Thomas – Covid19 #4

Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America; Essays Kindle Edition

Ballantine Books, 264 pages, 2020. (That’s EARLY 2020, before the pandemic.)

In the text, R. Eric Thomas tells us he wanted this book to be called Casual Nigger but EVERYBODY (editor, agent, who?) went nuts. Hence, the less controversial Here for It. Here for what? Life, actually. Thomas battled depression and struggled mightily to “find himself”. In these essays, he lets us in on his battles, small and large.

The title, of course, is on the cover, and I find the cover image alarming. On a pink background, a “black” man’s hand is tossing confetti. Fine! But the hand is deformed. I know hands. The thumb joint is WAY out of line. Injury? Age? Is it painful? Does Thomas know the hand is damaged? Was the choice intentional? My hands (both, regrettably) are less obviously deformed, but cause pain daily. But I digress…

R E Thomas is funny. Goodness knows, a funny sociopolitical commentator is a real find! He’s a wise guy. Sociologically, he’s “intersectional”, expressing African American, LGBTQ and Christian identities. Here for It is autobiographical. He was born in Baltimore and spent decades in Philadelphia.

I was particularly interested Thomas’s college years at Columbia University and University of Maryland (Baltimore Campus).

Toward the end of the book, in a Chapter entitled “The Past Smelled Terrible”, Thomas waxes both prophetic and patriotic. HOW DID HE KNOW WHAT WAS COMING??

“I can’t help but think constantly about the end of the world…Listen. Here’s my living will, okay? I have no desire to survive the apocalypse…if the post-apocalypse comes about because of a massive plague or something, I have no useful medical or scientific skills…I would like to be Patient 15. Maybe Patient 20. No higher than 50. I don’t want to be Patient Zero, because then everyone would blame me, which is rude…I just want to go early, while they’re still doing nice tributes to the victims on television and I can get my own grave plot.”

WTF? Did Thomas know something? Where is he now? I hope he’s riding out the pandemic someplace comfortable. (I started to say “safe and comfortable”. No place is “safe”.) I grabbed this book from my public library on March 11, just before the big shutdown. I knew enough to grab extra books, maybe a dozen. Good luck, Eric!

Personal History – Epidemics in my Life – COVID19 #1

I was (sort of) born during an epidemic. I was born in 1949. According to an article I found, polio (infantile paralysis) was rife in the 1950s, and there were 60,000 cases in the United States in 1952. Three thousand victims died. How many more were left unable to walk and dependent on wheel chairs, crutches, etc?

One of my earliest memories was the arrival at my home of school aged children for tutoring by my mother. These were polio victims on the road to recovery. Some wore leg braces. My mother’s job was to help them catch up on their school work. She enjoyed teaching them. I was supposed to stay quiet and out of the way.

In 1955, Jonas Salk introduced a vaccine and thousands of children became “Polio Pioneers”, the first large group to be vaccinated. My sister, three years older than me, was vaccinated at school. I was too young for that cohort. My parents were worried. They arranged (somehow) for me to get the shot from a physician married to a friend of my mother. I was driven to his house one evening for the injection.

So polio was not an issue in my life after age 6! Very fortunate, since we lived near a lovely public park with an enticing pool. I would happily have played there all day, every day. Over time, I spent MANY summer days there, eventually joining the swim team, marinating in the chlorinated water and earning money for college working as a lifeguard. Once in a while, my mother would remark that it could have been different. That we could have stayed home all summer, fearing polio. Perish the thought!

Our public schools operated on a schedule that was supposed to “break up epidemics”. Instead of a long Easter break, we got a week off at the end of February and another week-long break eight weeks after that. Sometimes it didn’t work. I remember concerns over Rubella, aka German measles, which led to high absenteeism when I was in middle school. I never caught it, but thought I must surely have had a subclinical case. Nope. Decades later, when I told my OBG I wanted to start a family, I was tested and found to lack immunity. I accepted vaccination before trying to get pregnant. I remember controversies (1981?) over County Public Health testing employees for immune status and requiring vaccination of employees who worked with the public.

Growing up, I seemed not the get influenza when it was epidemic. I had at least two cases, one around 1961 and another in the summer of 1969. One year in college, I was wandering, dazed, through endless registration lines when my path was blocked by a person with a clipboard, demanding to know if I was allergic to chickens or eggs. Startled, I denied any allergy. Bang! Shot in the arm. An early influenza vaccine!

I suppose many of us are using our time in COVID19 “social distancing” quarantine to ponder our health histories and how they might have been different without various medical advances. I’m so glad my children have been spared at least five diseases from which I faced risk.

Memories of high school English with Mrs. Gerhardt (1964-65)

One day my sophomore English class convened to find, on each desk, a blank piece of paper. Our teacher wore a serious expression. “Today is lottery day”, she announced. We silently shuffled our mental files, arriving quickly at Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery that we had read earlier in the year. We looked at Mrs. Gerhardt inquiringly. She told us to turn over our papers – she had one, too. A young woman had the black spot. Another pause. Mrs. Gerhardt crumpled her paper and threw it at the chosen victim. We followed suit, littering the classroom.

There was a collective sigh… Release of tension? Discussion followed. The “victim” was asked how she felt. “I knew you wouldn’t really hurt me.” My high school did not protect us from controversial and potentially upsetting literature. Wikipedia tells me that The Lottery (published in 1948) was so unpopular and notorious that it was banned in some jurisdictions, and Jackson received hate mail. Some would define the theme as “it can’t happen here”.

How many teachers can plan a class that you remember FIFTY YEARS later? Mrs. Gerhardt was a wonderful, stimulating teacher. She took us seriously as readers and writers.

Sophomore year was reserved for American literature, with the usual deviations. Every year, we read one play from Shakespeare (sophomore year, maybe it was MacBeth), worked our way through a grammar text identified only by the name of the author (Warriner), and gobbled up vocabulary from a book calledWorld Wealth. We got SO good at grammar and vocabulary! That left at least 70% of our classroom time for other pursuits.

What did we do? We read! Sometimes we read plays. I was cast as the mother in Our Town by Thornton Wilder. Two boys with theatrical inclinations performed Edward Albee’s Zoo Story. And once each semester, we had a “Folk Day”. We prepared and shared whatever we wanted, so long as it had some relationship to American folk culture. This was in the day of the “hootenanny”, of folksingers Peter, Paul and Mary, of Bob Dylan. Folk Day was wildly popular. A friend and I sang an old English folk song, a love ballad, accompanying ourselves with guitar and recorder.

Searching for something that didn’t require a partner, I stumbled on the book Over Their Dead Bodies – Yankee Epitaphs and History by T Mann and J Green. Great! It qualified for Folk Day. But I had a problem. One of the epitaphs struck me so funny that I couldn’t read it aloud without cracking up. I de-sensitized myself by repeating it over and over, until I could recite it with a straight face. This planted it permanently in my brain:

Under the sod and under the trees

Lies the body of Jonathan Pease.

He is not there, there’s only the pod.

Pease shelled out and went to God.

Really?! Was the author kidding us? Has anyone else got such a silly bit of drivel stuck in his/her brain from decades ago? Please share under comments. Using Amazon, I confirmed that this book was published in 1962. Used copies are available! Genealogy fans take notice.

I already wrote about the journals Mrs. Gerhardt required of us. See my blog entry of July 8, 2016. Fifty years of my journal writing has been consigned to a reliable archive.

Another activity from sophomore English was the Book of the Month competition. I think it actually happened four times a year. This wasn’t just an oral book report. You had to “sell” your book as the “best” book, make everyone want to read it. The class voted, and two books (there were two sections of Honors English) would be posted as winners. Once I went all out. I read Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis, and plugged it as exciting and patriotic. And I won! But the other class, in a fit of mischief, all agreed to vote for someone who did a terrible job on a perfectly awful sounding book. Mrs. Gerhardt, offended, posted my name and winning title/author in lonely splendor on the classroom bulletin board.

Rest in Peace, Mrs. Gerhardt! You enriched our lives and kept us busily occupied through a year of adolescence.

If YOU had a wonderful teacher in high school, please share!

Novels that educators should read – lecture and discussion

Richard Trama is Assistant Director of Academic Advising at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. His talk was entitled “Fiction – the Fabric of Our Lives: Twelve Novels that All Educators Should Read”.

For some reason, I walked in with the conviction that if he missed Z N Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God I wouldn’t listen to a word he said. Whew! It is on the list. 

There were two more books on the list that I have read – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (M Spark) and The Line of Beauty (A Hollinghurst). One hit and one miss. I liked Miss Jean Brodie and suspect, after hearing it discussed, that it is worth a second read. I read The Line of Beauty when it was nominated as a Freshman Year “common reading”. I didn’t like it, and couldn’t imagine what students would get from it.

Why does Trama think “educators” should read these books? He was especially speaking to college teachers who serve as “preceptors”. He sees these books as embodying the development of “voice”, as narratives of the journey of growth, and he suggests (stunningly, to me) the a preceptor should “read” a student like a text. One function of education is to help the student find her/his voice and express her/his personal narrative. Reading good literature helps.

What’s a “preceptor”? The intent is to do more than just “advise” the student on how to get through college and maybe get a job. A preceptor fills some functions of a mentor, with an interest in personal growth as well as academic success.

Without re-typing the whole list, a few comments…

Two of the books on the list (Billiards at Half-Past Nine by H Boell and The Assault by H Mulisch) were translated from German and Dutch, respectively. Surely a College that focuses on Global Awareness should encourage students to read works that are translated, and to think about the impact translation may have had on the narrative. (Wouldn’t it be great if students studied languages deeply enough to undertake some translation?) 

This led me to ponder how much (or little) I read in translation. Since I started this blog (ten months ago), I’ve read two short novels by C Aira translated from Spanish. In the past, I read the works of Jorge Amado and G G Marquez. That’s it! I’ve only read works translated from Spanish, which I never studied. (Maybe I will think of something else… I know I’ve read a few books from China.) Should I look for translated works? From the languages I’ve studied, or others? Does “authenticity” translate?

Trama cheated a little with his list. He included three works by Margaret Atwood and two each by Walker Percy and Hilary Mantel. The Handmaid’s Tale scared me so much I never read anything else by Atwood. Maybe now I could handle it. The Robber Bride sounds interesting and was described as humorous. 

Trama said if you want to read a distinctive female voice, try Hilary Mantel, so I put her Wolf Hall trilogy onto my personal list. Can’t get too much historical fiction. 

My teaching and preceptoring days are past, but I spend enough time with teens and young adults to feel that books like these are well worth my while (and I’m always looking for a good read). Thank you, Richard Trama!